He Flies

I’ve kept this to myself for more than a year and at the risk of sounding completely delusional, I’ve decided to share my secret, I talk to flies.  Not so bad?  OK, it gets weirder…  I talk to my dad as a fly.  Yep, I warned you, now hold your judgement and let me explain.

I know a lot of people who see signs, symbols or animals and remember a loved one.  Most of the time I hear butterflies or cardinals, usually creatures with less filthy and annoying reputations.  My dad always wished he had the ability to fly and beginning with the day he passed it seemed he was communicating literally as a fly.  After battling a cancer that ate away at his bones, robbed his ability to move comfortably and provided a hellish amount of pain, he was finally free to fly.

The police arrived after his last breath before 4 AM, a fly flew in with them.  It was early spring and the first fly I had seen that year rested on the ceiling in his bedroom as I sat with my mom, numb from the previous year leading up to that moment.

fly-machu-picchuBreaking the empty silence,  “I still want to go on the family vacation we talked about,” Mom said.  We had been trying to keep my dad encouraged during his illness by talk of taking a big trip to Machu Picchu, a place he had always wanted to see.  We promised him we would all go when he regained his health, as we all believed he would.  The fly took off from the ceiling and circled around the room several times before landing again.  Half joking, I identified the fly as “Dad” and stated he was showing his support of us going.

Over the months that followed, I continued to have symbolic moments with flies.  Times when I was overwhelmed with sorrow, flies seemed to appear in the most unlikely or random places.  I didn’t associate all flies with my dad and there was some frustration within myself for even recognizing the connection an insect could have with someone I admired so much.  Generally, the disgust I had for flies and what they represented before, turned to comfort and humor when I needed it during the darkest moments of grief. An early fly memory was watching as the creature floundered in flight, wobbling like a drunk as if it were learning to fly brought a smile.  I lost my natural instinct to swat away flies and instead forced me to tune into the present in those moments they appeared.

Six months after his death, I dreaded my parent’s anniversary.  I knew it would be unbearable for my mom and I figured she wouldn’t want anyone around.  The hopelessness I felt during his illness returned with the hopelessness I had knowing there was nothing I could do to help my mom.  For the better half of the day I debated whether I should bring her the roses I knew my dad would have brought to her as he did every year.  I agonized, cried and could not turn my thoughts to anything else as I sat at my kitchen table confused.  Of course a fly appeared and circled around me, maybe out of anger he wasn’t physically present and my mom was suffering, I left for the opposite corner of the house to let my tears continue to flow.  The damn fly immediately followed and rested on the ceiling above my head.  For the first time in six months I spoke to the fly, to my dad.  “Do you want me to bring her roses,” I asked.  The fly left the ceiling and flew into my raw wet cheek.  “Fine Dad, I will go get them.”  I can’t imagine they helped Mom much that day, but Dad wanted her to have them.

Without hearing his words, the fly has been his form of communication to quiet my emotion, to remind me to breathe, at times to let me know his disapproval and more than anything to signal he is and always will be with me.  As strange as I know it is, I accept my bizarre connection to this six-legged, giant eyed buzzing creature.

This past summer my uncle also passed.  My cousin, sister and I all decided to get a tattoo for our dads, likely one of the last things they would have wanted us to do for them.  My uncle even told his daughters “tattoos are like putting a bumper sticker on a Cadillac.”  I guess I think of my body as more of a Volkswagen bus with a statement to make.  Of all the words or imagines I debated to use as a tribute to my dad, one thing seemed make the most sense.  The fly sits high on my left femur, the bone which broke on my dad’s way to being able to fly.

Happy Birthday Dad, the flies are not much of a substitute for being able to see you, talk to you and feel your hug.  I appreciate them either way.  You are free from pain and at peace now,  I miss you today and always.

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Alone and Full of Questions

I’m going to admit, I am struggling this week. It’s times like this, I really miss my dad. He and I would talk in ways I haven’t found anyone else I can speak openly with. It was easier to keep it between the two of us, basically only to avoid frustrating other people, facing their dismissal of our point of view or hearing their opinion of how we are crazy to have questions. But I still do have questions, I still am curious, I miss my confidant to share this perspective and so I struggle. I struggle with the hesitation to bring it up to anyone else but it’s a lonely place.
 
I don’t understand when it became unintelligent to ask questions. It’s curious to me how it is disrespectful to seek the truth. It’s frustrating to me when their is no accountability and total acceptance for news reports changing or omitting facts and filling with hours of persuasive commentary rather than providing actual details.
 
What happened in Las Vegas this week is concerning and confusing to me. The narrative being given has no logic and does not match what witnesses at the concert reported immediately following the event. The “facts” of the story are not static, more answers only lead me to to more questions. This event has many more people than usual scratching their heads to make sense of why things are not adding up. And I, like many of them are not tin foil hat wearing, Alex Jones following, conspiracy theorists – all things my dad and I despised being identified with. We simply have questions.
 
Questions are not disrespectful to victims, in fact it’s the opposite. If my loved one were injured or worse, I would demand justice. And based on the state of media in the United States and the corporate ownership, it would be foolish not to question why they can’t clearly articulate details and stick to them. Mark Twain said it best, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”
 
If you have read this far, I appreciate you. Please for one minute, drop your feelings of why my opinion is all wrong and sit in a place of being curious. What if I am right and there is more than we are being told.

Grief at Five

“We feel mad and sad,” these were the words my five year old daughter articulated to my mom’s neighbor when Mom couldn’t respond to his question the day after my dad passed.  Parker’s wisdom in the moment demonstrated some maturity and emotional understanding of what we were all experiencing.

And just as everyone in the family has shown moments of strength, we have all succumb to the weight of his loss in different moments too.  For my daughter, she began grieving the changes to her Papa long before he had been diagnosed with cancer.

Parker and Papa shared rituals.  She would get the stick and flashlight for Papa and they would get down on their hands and knees to get kitty toys out from under the stove.  She would bring him the DVD case and together they would put in a movie and she would snuggle on his lap to watch.  Parker would sit with him after dinner to have dessert and he would allow her spoonfuls from his bowl of ice cream even when she had her own.

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Papa would let Parker interrupt his work in his home office to let her sit in his chair and play on the computer or make copies of her hand on his printer.  She would get excited when Papa would fill up the teapot and assist by getting out the honey and a spoon then patiently waited for her helping of honey.  Parker started calling him “Poppy,” a term of endearment he adored.  And a favorite ritual before we left their home was for Papa to pick her up for a giant sandwich hug with Poppy and Nana.

When my dad injured his back we made modifications to the sandwich hug.  Instead of getting down to play on the floor, she found joy in getting to play in his remote lift chair.  She naturally became more gentle with him and found on some days when he was more comfortable, she could still snuggle in to watch a movie with him.  Parker asked a lot of questions and mourned why Papa couldn’t pick her up anymore.  I tried to reaffirm it would only be a matter of time, he would heal and things would be back to normal.

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30 July 2015 – One month before diagnosis.

This time last year, her worry became even more evident, she questioned daily when Poppy’s back would be better.  He was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma about a month shy of Parker’s fifth birthday and it seemed too complex to try to explain what was happening to her Papa.  “The doctors are helping Papa because he is sick,” seemed the only rational thing to say to a five year old.  Then we would talk about praying for him to heal and for his back to be all better again soon.

Repeating this conversation seemed to temporarily satisfy her and my dad improved through the autumn of 2015.  He was showing signs of healing and getting around easier.  Parker understood his limitations and adjusted to how their adoration for each other was changing.  A huge setback came just before the new year when a lesion on his femur broke with only the weight of his body standing.  With the exception of medical appointments, Papa lived in his own personal medical suite upstairs.  As the months passed in late winter and early spring, Parker went upstairs less and less.  I could see how nervous she felt in his presence and witnessing him suffer.  I made attempts to encourage their interactions with playing games or showing him a dance she was practicing in class.  Right or wrong, I tried to explain what was happening to his bones in five year old terms.  For months straight she would pick out the same bedtime story “Magic School Bus: The Human Body,” and often stopped on specific pages displaying a graphic of a skeleton to talk about Papa’s bones.  It was her own way of coping and trying to understand.

Dad never rebounded from the surgery, medications and treatment.  He passed at home in his sleep days after Easter.  Since it was early in the morning when I got the call, I left before Parker woke.  My husband and I agreed not to tell her, instead sending her to school so we could have a day to sort out arrangements.  The following morning, I dreaded telling Parker what happened to her beloved Poppy.  I worried she wouldn’t understand what death meant as she had no memory of losing someone.  We sat down with her in the kitchen and I did my best to conceal my tears and calm my voice.  Her tears were immediate as though she completely understood the gravity of him being gone.  We embraced and tried to turn our sadness to appreciation for him to no longer be in pain.  When we told her we would be going to Nana and Papa’s house for the day Parker begged to go to school, a place where she could be happy and forget.  She didn’t want to go to the house where Papa is supposed to be and him not be there.

As always, the opportunity to see her cousins and trumped the fear of the empty house.  She played with her cousins while the adults seemed to float around the house without intention, numb from the turbulence of the last year.  After her cousins had been gone a while in the late afternoon, Parker came running from upstairs sobbing.  Mom and my dad’s sister and I all felt the ripple of emotion and broke down with her.  I believe she had been upstairs to play in his lift chair, a game that was no longer fun with him gone.

In the days and weeks following we cried together frequently.  We expressed gratitude he was free from pain and we talked about how he would always be with us.  I encouraged Parker to know he could be with her whenever she felt she needed him.  On the way to school she would say she was going to bring him with her and talked to him on our way there.  She joked “He’s going the wrong way, no Poppy that’s not the right turn…”  And when we talked about him being with his mom, she would sometimes bring Grame along to school too.

It seemed the tearful sadness of losing Papa was lessened during the early summer.  She could talk about him without the heavy emotion and I was relieved she was coping so well.  Then there were times I wondered if I was doing everything right to help a five year old with grief.  On a few occasions she got stuck looking at pictures and would break down unable to catch her breath.  I validated her feelings by recalling stories of him and the funny things we would remember him by to help in the moment.

I had been concerned maybe my daughter was reflecting my emotions, maybe she was feeling the grief I was immersed in and so I have been careful to not initiate her thoughts or feelthelightfeelings.  I know her moments of grief are her own because many times I am blindsided by her eruption of sadness.  Like a peaceful ride in the car interrupted by a quivering voice in the backseat “I miss Papa.”  Parker recently began associating one song to Papa, a song she has loved for a long time but now can’t manage to hear without thinking of how much she misses him.There are even joyful celebrations where she turns to despair because Papa is not there to share in it.

The variety of ways Parker has expressed her heartache demonstrate how much she deeply loved her Poppy and also resemble the complicated way our whole family is coping with his loss.  In the last six months there have been times when talking about him was easy and then there are days when even the sight of a bird soaring can cause hysteria.  We know we each have individual triggers which can cause deep sorrow; a song, a date, a place or any synchronistic event.  And then there are other waves of grief which don’t seem to have a pairing, the misery builds to a peak and subsides.

The helplessness I felt with my dad in the last year of his life has transitioned to feeling helpless to support my mom and my daughter.  I want to always have the perfect words to make them hurt less.  And just as there were days I couldn’t do anything but stare at my dad, there are moments I am paralyzed in the faces of my mother and my child.  I am managing as best I can and accepting the unpredictable nature of grief and how it is impacting us in unique ways.  I understand it will get easier over time, though the waves may be less intense or less frequent we will ride these waves of grief indefinitely.

My hope is the waves Parker experiences will calm much sooner and easier than my own.  I want her to be able to remember the love he had for her without the deep sorrow of missing him.  I worry her memory of their rituals will fade, though I know she will never forget how much she loved Poppy.  And I know the pride he had in her will live on forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Grammy

To a woman,

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother,

Saleswoman and business owner always in a suit and heels,

Lover of her family, Minnesota sports teams, travel, birds, gardening and politics,

Smart wit and great humor,

Polish and of Catholic faith,

Attentive to details and taking great care in cooking and cleaning,

Inspiring each live she has touched to be a little more gentle, a little more understanding and to act with love.

Happy 100th Birthday to my Grammy, I love you.

This is her first birthday our family will be remembering her without her present.  I know her lessons will last my lifetime and will continue to have a powerful influence on future generations of our family.  After her passing in December 2012 (link) I took some of her photo albums, as pictures are so important to me.  Here are a few of my favorites.

My Sister and My Friend

You know the old cliché about being born sisters and choosing to be friends? I am fortunate to have this be true in my relationship with my sister. She was born a little over two years after me and I cannot remember a time before she was in my life. In childhood we varied from the best playmates to typical sibling rivalry. There were times, being the older sibling, I used to get so irritated having a tag along sister invading my time with friends. And there were times I was overjoyed to have her to team up against our older brother, only to have it later being the two of them teaming up against me. As teenagers, it became more difficult to get along consistently. Both of us exercising independence and unique interests, it became easy to judge and criticize each other unfairly. As we matured and both moved past high school our relationship strengthened again. It became clear while each of us had our own great friends we are really best friends. Friends who laugh at nonsense, finish each others song lyrics, work to repair arguments, travel to see each other anywhere in the world the other may be, and friends who are honest, supportive and do their best to help each other. My sister and I are mirrors in so many ways and complete opposites at the same time.

My sister has been an inspiration to me for a long time and especially in the last year as it seems everything she touches turns to gold. She is emotional, yet passionate. She is impossible to wake up, yet never late. She loves people, though maybe animals more. And she is dedicated and hard-working even when it doesn’t come easy. My sister is talented, creative, popular and fun. She is exactly the kind of person I would choose as a friend.

In the last year she has had so many successes and reasons for celebration. Sometimes the success and celebration comes with heartache, well it does for me anyway. As I write, she is riding across the country to New York City where she and her fiance will make their home, or shoe box as it is in NYC. She left early this morning, on my birthday no less, for the start of the next chapter. And while I am thrilled for her adventure, living it big in the city, I can’t help but be sad. No more spontaneous meeting up for dinner, drinks or frozen yogurt and it will be a long time between hugs. She just left and I already miss her.

Turning to Love – 99 Years

Adaline & Eleanor - born October 2, 1913

Adaline & Eleanor – born October 2, 1913

On October 2nd, 1913 twin girls were born the forth and fifth children into a Polish family. Their parents worked side by side operating their three Wines Department Stores in Minneapolis. They demonstrated a strong work ethic and provided well for their large family. In all, there ended up being seven girls and two boys, being raised primarily by nannies. One of the twins, Eleanor, remembered as she was growing up longing for more time with her sweet mom and developing anger towards her dad. She feared the times her dad would discipline her older brother Stan, she tried her hardest to protect him by laying under a bed hiding him behind her.

Eleanor and her siblings attended Catholic school, while she loved learning she hated school and vowed never to send her future children to a Catholic school. She recalls the nuns being unreasonably strict and generous with ruler slaps on the hands. With difficulties at home and at school Eleanor had one place she would turn to for unconditional love. Her grandma spoke only Polish, she was a terrific cook and provided all of the individual attention Eleanor craved. Each of the nine children were given days they would be allowed to spend at their grandma’s. Eleanor discovered early on how valuable this time was to her and used her pennies of chore money to pay her sibling’s for their time with her grandma.

GramInto her teen years Eleanor felt jealous of her sisters naively believing they were more talented, more outgoing and more beautiful than she. Her twin Adaline seemed to get all of the from boys. Despite comparing herself to her sisters, Eleanor wasn’t about to settle for any man to become her husband. She had been turning to love and knew how important it was above anything else. Her brother Stan introduced her to his friend Mitch at a baseball field. He was tall, handsome, one of seven hilarious brothers and exactly the match to be able to give and receive the love Eleanor had been preparing for. They were married on September 2, 1939.

Before their vows Eleanor didn’t know how to cook or clean, she threw herself into being a housewife and tried to hide her lack of skills at first. Eleanor and Mitch loved each other with fairy tale affection and admiration for each other. “I even loved ironing his clothes,” she recalled “Because it was for him.” They were married three years before their daughter was born, then Eleanor stressed for three years when Mitch was drafted into World War II. Finally reunited with his return they had another two children, both boys. Mitch’s job at an insurance agency afforded Eleanor to be able to dedicate herself to motherhood in a way she never got to experience from her own mom. And the practice of turning to love made her an excellent mom. She sewed dresses for her daughter and took her to dance classes. She adored her sons and worried when each of them found love in their early teens.

True Love - Eleanor & Mitch

True Love – Eleanor & Mitch

“They are too young,” she would recall believing. For the years of life she had lived she had come to have beliefs about age and developed fears about what was appropriate. And as her apprehension proved to be wrong, Eleanor turned to love, she embraced the two young women and accepted the error in her perception. Eventually all three of her children had moved out of the home, their daughter and first son married and their youngest son was away at college. Eleanor and Mitch became grandparents, “I hope I could be at least a quarter how wonderful my grandma was to me,” she would say.

Only a few years into being a single couple in love, Mitch died unexpectidly from a heart attack. She turned to the love of family to share in their grief. And in the love she had for him and for her own life she found strength to begin again. Eleanor and her daughter started a business and opened a gift shop called Two’s Company in South Minneapolis. The shop’s patrons returned to the store as much for the warmth in their presence as they would to buy beautiful things. Eleanor exuded love for living through her passion for her family, business, travel and laughter.

Grammy and me, 1982

Grammy and me, 1982


She adored being Grammy and had four grandchildren already before her younger son added another three, including me. Grammy was always thrilled to greet us at the door and require a buzi (Polish for kiss). She shared her affection for flowers and birds, she demonstrated how to engage in conversation with people in a genuine way and she modeled incredible sales skills when we tagged along at the shop. We drank old fashion malted milkshakes, searched through her hard boiled eggs for shells and charged her quarters when we caught her swearing. She loved politics and sports. Proudly cheering on the Minnesota Twins and Vikings, she would anxiously call in from another room to check on the score if the game was too intense to watch.

Grammy was an honest cheerleader. You are so beautiful. You are so talented. You are so smart. Even though I know she said the same thing to everyone, I knew she truly meant it every time the words escaped her.

Eleanor, her 3 children, their spouses and 7 grandchildren - 1993

Eleanor, her 3 children, their spouses and 7 grandchildren – 1993


As I grew into a young adult I became more aware of her amazing life and her gift at finding happiness. She continued to work, travel the world, drive her car, live in her own home and maintain a garden into her 90’s. She attended some of her grandchildren’s weddings and began having great grandchildren. Her love of life and for those around her grew, and in turn she stayed youthful.

When I was in college Grammy asked me, and my friends I brought over, about dating. “You’re so beautiful Holly, I bet you have so many suitors,” she would tell me. My friends chimed in telling her I have been too picky. So when I was finally in a relationship worth telling her about I became nervous. I introduced my boyfriend by photograph and tried to communicate my feelings for him. As my nerves had predicted, she was honest and fearful of me being in an inter-racial relationship. My heart deflated when I heard her response, “I didn’t marry the first man I fell in love with.”

Her approval was important to me and I was disappointed, yet I couldn’t be mad at her. For the 90 years of life she had lived she had come to have beliefs about race and developed fears about what was appropriate. When she met my boyfriend for the first time the initial apprehension she showed by the sight of his picture was gone and she turned to love. Her perception of what was correct had never been challenged this way before and she accepted she didn’t have to fear.

She has inspired me with her acceptance, her unconditional love and her willingness to change. A few years later she shocked me again when she questioned me about gay marriage. “Can you believe they want to get married?” She asked me. We talked about rights and why it is important for people beyond what is acceptable in a church. “I never thought of it like that,” she said. And in that moment she turned a page on almost a century of beliefs for a powerful demonstration of turning to love.

Grammy celebrated her 99th birthday this past year. She continued to live at home, the home she shared with her husband, raised her kids and created memories for generations more. She maintained her memory, her humor and her youthful spirit, though her energy faded. Knowing her time on earth was drawing to an end she had been surrounded by family; children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all voicing their love for her and appreciation for the wisdom she has provided. She passed this afternoon fully alert to her loved ones surrounding her and to where she was going.

Grammy turned to love for 99 years, she gave unconditionally, she accepted when she was wrong and practiced forgiveness to others who wronged her. I am blessed to have had her in my life and to witness how she lived and loved. I imagine a world with infinite possibilities if everyone were able to turn to love and seek happiness the way she did. And someday, if I am a grandma, I hope to be at least a quarter of how wonderful my Grammy was to me.
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